The Joy of Politics

Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, 6 – 22 November 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Gordon Brown’s Prime Ministerial career is dead in the water. You can tell because a) political satirists like Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh, collectively known as The Black Sheep, think gags about Mr Brown’s slim chances of re-election guarantee laughs, and because b) they’re right.

The Prime Minister isn’t the only easy target to come under fire in The Black Sheep’s satirical sketch show The Joy of Politics. Charles Kennedy’s alcoholism and MPs’ expenses, for example, are savaged in predictable but thankfully brisk and admittedly crowd-pleasing fashion. As satirists Jones and Murtagh can’t afford not to mention the expenses scandal, but their material isn’t sufficiently different from other, higher profile acts’ to stand out.

It’s when disassembling and inspecting the day-to-day workings of Westminster, by imagining William Wilberforce’s early years as an ill-informed junior minister (Murtagh), that the pair come into their own. Explanations of the parliamentary whipping system (with riding crops) and how to deal with a direct question from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight (a lengthy sketch full of increasingly evasive answers to the simple question, “Would you like a Kit Kat Chunky?”) are amongst the strongest items in the two-hour show.

One or two early sketches are allowed to continue one or two lines beyond the natural punchline and fizzle as a result; and the musical numbers that pepper the schedule vary wildly in quality. Hits include Churchill (Jones) in spangly gold parachute pants advising Herr Hitler “You can’t touch this”, but the dampest squib of the evening is Murtagh singing Abba’s “I Have a Dream” – supposedly in character as Martin Luther King Jr but looking more like a Sinatra impersonator in a pinstriped suit and trilby. The tenuous connection that both Dr King and Abba used the line “I Have a Dream” isn’t nearly enough to sustain laughter while Murtagh warbles out practically the entire song.

But a couple of flat minutes aren’t enough to derail a show that deftly balances satire and highbrow wit with pure silliness and knob gags (referred to as such by the self-aware duo). Not to mention the fact that Andrew Jones’ Nick Griffin impersonation alone is worth the entry price.

Written by Andrew Jones, Cal McCrystal and Ciaran Murtagh

Crew includes Cal McCrystal (director) and Sakina Karimjee (set designer)

Cast includes Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh

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